Florida Atlantic University isn't ruling out a politician as its next president, but it won't be Jeff Atwater.
Members of an FAU presidential search committee on Friday narrowed their selections to three finalists. Former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux made the top three, as did two traditional candidates, Christopher Earley, dean of the School of Management at Purdue University, and John Kelly, vice president at Clemson University.
Atwater, the state's chief financial officer and a former state Senate president, was also one of nine initial finalists but after an interview Friday, search committee members decided he wasn't the best match to be FAU's next president.
At the same time, they complimented LeMieux as having a great vision and knowledge of FAU.
LeMieux, who was also chief of staff under Gov. Charlie Crist, said he was approached by several people at FAU to apply for the job.
"FAU is primed to catapult forward if the university can attract and retain first-rate talent, harness the resources of the business community and alumni, timely educate and graduate its students and deepen the bonds between the students, faculty and alumni," he said in his cover letter.
Kelly said his strategic planning efforts at Clemson helped the school climb from 39th best public university in U.S. News & World Report in 1999 to 21st this year.
"We must put our students first, while building both our academic reputation and financial resources," he said.
Earley said he has strong relationships with educators and universities all over the world.
"I believe that FAU is poised to affirm and advance its position as a top university in the region and nation," he said. "FAU has the envious position of having many talented people and a loyal alumni base."
Many at FAU have been debating whether the next president should have an academic background, like previous President Mary Jane Saunders, or a political background, like her predecessor, Frank Brogan.
Search committee members seemed undecided Friday, saying the best candidate could come from either.
They hope the next president will help FAU avoid some of the missteps that brought the university negative publicity last year. Many said Saunders did a poor job of handing controversies such as a botched $6 million stadium donation from a prison group and a classroom exercise that involved Jesus. Candidates were asked how they would handle potentially embarrassing or controversial events.
The three remaining finalists will be invited to FAU's Boca Raton, Jupiter and Davie campuses on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to meet with students, faculty and groups. The Board of Trustees expects to select the new president Jan. 17.
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